If you love God, raise your hand.
Nobody’s watching but the millions of people on Facebook, so go ahead. If you love God, raise your hand. Now, raise it a bit higher. REALLY show the world that you love God! So, why didn’t you do that in the first place? Why not thrust your hand in the air the first time? There’s a part of us that holds back out of fear. Fear of being made a fool. Fear of being used. Fear of the consequences. We are too often fueled by fear. We don’t have enough trust in one another or, let’s face it, trust in God, to whole-heartedly let go and have the kind of faith God is hoping for. That’s especially true when it comes to the topic of giving. We have trouble with giving. And again, trust and fear are tightly interwoven into that conversation. Most of us are challenged by it. We ALREADY know we should give more and we ALREADY feel guilty about it, so why rub it in? It’s like rubbing salt into an old wound. But this is one of the most important topics in the Bible if for no other reason than to dismiss the notion that the church is about money. As a pastor, you hear quite often that the church is always asking for more money. But giving is really about your trust and faith in God. It’s about priorities and bringing God’s vision into reality, but it has very little to do with money. Because God doesn’t need your money. It’s all his anyway. Psalm 24:1-2 – “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.” Giving is about faith and trust.
Let’s get rid of another myth: Pastors preach about money because they want more of it.
If that were true, I would have stayed in the marketing field. When I started on this journey 15 years ago, I was already making more money then than I am now. At our first gathering after becoming a provisional elder, our District Superintendents told us that if there was something else we would rather do, we should be doing that. There are easier jobs that make a lot more money than being a pastor. So when we preach about giving, it’s not because we want more; it’s because it’s important. We preach about it because it’s one of the most difficult things we are challenged by, and I mean ALL of us – myself included. Money is a physical symbol of all that roots us in THIS world and we need to continually challenge ourselves not to let that get in the way of our relationship with God. I know some of you hate hearing the pastor preach about giving. It has that nasty, slimy feel to it. Or you feel like the pastor is sitting on the street corner with his tin cup, begging for a scrap of something more like a homeless person on the street. But it’s because we care about developing people in their faith. Giving is such an important part of trusting in God and letting go of the things that hold us back from being all we can be, how could we not talk about it?
Even the apostle Paul taught on giving.
In one of his letters to the church at Corinth, he was hoping they would give him a donation so he could build more churches and help more people come to faith in Christ. I don’t know if this was the first sermon on giving outside of Jesus, but there is no doubt that was Paul’s goal. He wanted to convince the Corinthians to challenge themselves in giving. In chapter 8, verse 7-9 he writes this, “But since you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you — see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Sounds like a guilt trip, right? Maybe it was a little bit. But Paul was earnest in his desire to challenge the congregation through giving. See what he says right there in verse 8. “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.” And he makes it clear in later verses that it’s not the amount they give, but whether or not they are faithful in giving. Much like the Parable of the Widow’s Mite, the amount matters very little. It’s the attitude of faith and trust that is the most important thing. Which leads us to our passage this morning.
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”[a]
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! – 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
I think we are all challenged to be “cheerful givers.”
I don’t know of many people who give the way Paul challenges us to give. He says in verse 7, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” But there IS a part of us that is reluctant to give. Part of that is because plain and simple, we’re selfish. We earned this money. We worked hard to get it and we want to spend it on ourselves. The other part is that even when we want to give, we don’t always trust the people we’re giving it to. We’ve seen too often people abusing the money they’ve been given. Forget about politics. I think we can all agree that the $436 the Navy spent on a hammer was a pretty big abuse of the country’s money. Which of course ranks right up there with the $7,622 coffee brewer that the Air Force bought. But it doesn’t even have to be on that scale. Have you ever questioned the way your spouse spent your money? Have you ever found yourself saying, “You bought WHAT?” “But honey, I NEEDED that Daiwa Saltiga SA-Z Dog Fight Spinning Reel. What if one day I want to catch a marlin? And it was a bargain at only $1000.” “It’s a FISHING REEL.” Right? Haven’t we even questioned how those closest to us spend their money? So it’s hard to just be a cheerful giver because once we give it, we don’t have a lot of say in how it’s spent. We just have to have faith and trust that it will be used for the best.
And that’s what the challenge is for us – to have faith and trust in God as we give.
Whether that’s to the church or to the government or to a private charity, having faith and trust in God in our giving is a huge challenge for us. I think we confuse faith and trust in God with how our money is being spent. I would guess that God wants us to invest our resources in ways that make the Earth a better place, that bring us one step closer to Heaven on Earth. Fighting disease, poverty, hunger – these are all worthwhile endeavors. But faith and trust come not on the outcome of our giving, but on our giving itself. So we have to ask ourselves – are we giving to give or are we giving to get? Are we giving to give or are we giving to get? By that I mean are we giving cheerfully or are we giving conditionally? Are we so focused on the outcome of our giving that we are missing the greater transformation of our beings into generous people? Because the truth is being a cheerful giver is part of our developing relationship with God, the building of our faith and trust. Look at the rest of the passage from Paul’s letter, verses 12-15. “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” Did you hear that? Giving isn’t just about helping others’ physical needs, but it is a way of saying thanks to God for the gifts you have been blessed with. It’s a way of witnessing to others your love for Jesus Christ. And in your spirit of giving, you will be blessed in return. Giving is about the building up of faith and trust in God. And so when we withhold our gifts and graces, when we fail to offer ourselves into God’s service, we are cheating God.
When we focus only on the outcome of our giving, we become line item givers.
We want to pick and choose the outcome of our giving like the Line Item Veto Act of 1996. If you remember, Congress passed a law giving the President the authority to veto portions of the federal budget without having to veto the whole thing. But the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional because it circumvented the system of checks and balances. In essence, it broke with the intended way the system was set up. And the same is true about our giving. Our failure to surrender control to a higher authority is our own lack of faith and trust in God. I think we should be careful with who and what we give our money to, but once we give it, we have to let it go. Will some people spend that money poorly? Yes. Will some people abuse the gift they’ve been given? Yes. But if we live our lives constantly worrying about how other people are use THEIR gifts, we miss out on what God wants for our lives. We will miss out on the opportunity to develop this way of living, of being a generous and loving people. Because if we keep worrying about what’s going to happen to “our” money, when it isn’t even ours to begin with, we end up forgetting what it means to be a generous people.
There are two passages I want you to remember as we close for today.
Luke 6:38 and Proverbs 11:24. They’re in your bulletins so you can write down these fill in the blanks. Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” For the measure you use, it will be measured to you. And Proverbs 11:24 says, “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.” One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. This is what we have been talking about today. When you give freely, you gain something greater – a heart for living that will bring you peace and freedom from anxiety. When you withhold, you come to a poverty of spirit and a poverty of friendship, trust, love, and other things that God wants to bless you with. So reflect today about how you will approach your heart for giving. Whether you give to the church or to your kids or to your spouse or to your alma mater. In whatever ways you give, reflect today on your heart for giving.